F1 aspirants fix their need for speed with karts in Al Ain
Saeed Al Qubaisi shook his head in disbelief when he spoke about what Emiratis used to do for their speed fix.
"There used to be a lot of illegal underground road racing going on in the UAE about 10 or 15 years ago," said the 27-year-old kart driver, who works for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
"Thankfully, over recent years, we have been offered good facilities to race our cars safely and legally. Now we can channel our energy and love of motorsport in a totally safe environment.
"The underground racing was very dangerous. Now [looking around the Al Ain Raceway] things are better, much better."
The Ramadan Super Prix Challenge is a chance for drivers from a variety of backgrounds in the UAE, to compete and show off their skills.
This is the third year of the tournament at Al Ain Kartway. The second round took place last Friday with two more to go, on consecutive Fridays, during the Holy Month at what Guy Sheffield, the track's general manager calls: "The UAE's best kept secret."
If round two was anything to go by, these Emiratis, expatriates and one 12 year old on holiday with his family in Dubai, got that need for speed out of their system.
The karts sit one inch off the ground and over the course of a two-hour meeting, which involves practice sessions, heats and a final involving all 28 karts, the best drivers reach speeds down the long home stretch of 100kmph.
Khaled Al Hameli, a 24 year old from the capital, who works with the General Secretary for the Executive Council, has just bought his own DD2 kart and would like to make this more than just a hobby.
"I love racing and competing, and this is much safer than being out on the roads. I would like to race internationally for the UAE. This is my dream," he said.
"I want television and newspapers to give us more attention because this sport is going to be so important for UAE nationals, even more so than it is now.
"It is almost impossible to be an F1 driver, but karting is the entry level to motorsport, and it teaches us all the basics you need to become an accomplished driver."
Sheffield, an Englishman himself a former kart driver, expertly runs the night from start to finish.
Not only does he take the drivers through everything at the pre-race safety briefing, he also walks about the inside of the track, while the races take place, to make sure that everyone heeds the "No Contact" rule.
Sheffield even has a remote control that can slow down the car of any driver who is not behaving himself.
He also commentates over the public address system.
"The trick to karting is being a smooth driver," Sheffield said. "Anyone can put their foot down on the accelerator or hit the break. What the best do, and this is what is said about Jenson Button [the Formula One driver], is that the driver appears to make no effort at all as he is going around the corners.
"There are nine corners here on the track, and the best guys know they hardly need to move the steering wheel left or right to get around in the fastest time.
"We have some good drivers here. The competition is pretty fierce, and yet one of the best things about this Ramadan tournament is that not everyone is experienced. There are one or two who hadn't seen the track before, and are relatively new to the sport.
"So it's nice to know that this encourages them and hopefully they can keep at it."
Last Friday's 28-strong field was mostly made up of Emiratis in their 20s. One of these was Saeed Bintowq, a 21-year-old Dubai student, who would like to see more support given to the drivers in a country which he believes will one day produce a world champion.
"Karting is the start for everyone in motorsport. It teaches you how to take corners, how to read a line, and then you could think about driving internationally or get into rallying in the future.
"We have a big local scene. There are a lot of Emiratis who drive karts, but we are not recognised.
"If big companies could only see how important this is to us, and maybe even the Government, then we could get some backing and that would help us move to the next level.
"We love this. It is our sport."
But the driver who stuck out was Bence Alex Tozser, 12, from Hungary, who was visiting the country with his father, Zsolt, and mother, Tunde.
"The minimum age for this race is 16, but when we found out about it I called the track and Bence took a skills test in the afternoon, which he passed," Zsolt said. "So he was allowed a one-off chance to take part.
"He only took up karting a year ago when he was 11 years old, and he is leading the Bulgarian national junior championships. He loves going fast and has no fear."
Bence finished 11th overall, with Abdulla Al Suleiman the final's runaway winner on a night when everyone was fast and safe.
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Published: August 16, 2011 04:00 AM